Workplace Investigations

October 4, 2022  |  Joan M. Quade

What is a workplace investigation?

A workplace investigation is where a private company or public employer, such as a city or county, hires an investigator, usually an attorney who is experienced in investigations and employment law, to gather documents and interview people to determine if wrongdoing has occurred or company policy has been violated. The investigation is needed to determine what occurred in a particular situation when facts are known or unknown, or allegations have been made about an event and the complete truth of what occurred is unclear. It is the job of the investigator to gather facts through the review of documents, review of video or other evidence, if available, and to interview people who may have knowledge and information helpful in discovering the truth.

What are some examples of workplace investigations?

Examples of some of the issues that many times require employment investigations include, but are not limited to, employee theft, allegations of sexual harassment or bullying, assault in the workplace, misuse of company property or funds, sharing of confidential company information, inappropriate use of the company internet and accessing inappropriate internet sites, falsely claiming to work full time, acceptance of gifts or other ethics standards set by the employer and other general claims of employee misconduct. For public employers, there may also be data breach investigations, if information has been mishandled or there are violations of public employee standards of conduct set by the employer or by law.

What does a workplace investigator do?

A workplace investigator is hired by the employer to gather the facts about what occurred, through the review of documents and any other evidence, to interview the witnesses, to analyze all of the information, to do any follow up and verification where needed, and then, upon completion of the investigation, to supply the employer with an investigative report with accurate and thorough findings and conclusions.

How does the employer use the investigative report?

The investigative report is used to determine what occurred and what actions need to be taken, if any, based upon the findings and conclusions. In some employment situations an outside investigation, done by an unbiased investigator, is the best defense to potential claims that an employer knew of an issue and did nothing to prevent it. The report may uncover situations that indicate that it would be prudent, from a liability standpoint, for the employer to take action and the report may help protect the employer when taking those actions, when they are based upon a thorough and fair outside investigation.

How do you select a workplace investigator?

Select an attorney with an extensive background in employment law and who is experienced in all types of workplace investigations. With experience comes the ability to know what documents are needed, how to successfully interview witnesses and the wisdom to find the facts and draw accurate conclusions. Experienced employment attorneys know what evidence is required by law to support conclusions, and they know that the ability to support those conclusions is based upon the ability to show that the investigation was thorough and fair. Attorneys understand the proof required in hearings and in court and many investigators have experience in litigation which requires an understanding of evidence gathering and in taking testimony from witnesses and the techniques needed to get to the truth. Good investigators go in with an open mind and find the facts before drawing any conclusions.